G.B. “Jerry” Henderson was a philanthropist and entrepreneur, fascinated by technology, education, and innovation. He founded the Alexander Dawson Foundation in 1957 to provide students with access to the highest quality of education in the United States.
Girard Brown Henderson was born on February 25, 1905 in Brooklyn, New York, the younger son of Alexander Dawson Henderson, Sr. and Ella Brown Henderson. Alexander Dawson Henderson was vice president and treasurer of the fledgling California Perfume Company which after surviving the Great Depression, eventually went public in 1945, changing its name to Avon Products, Inc.
Upon graduating from a prep school (the Storm King School) in upstate New York, Jerry was accepted to Dartmouth University, but he left in the middle of his freshman year. Jerry wrote that the headmaster of his prep school was better at getting graduates into the Ivy League than the school was at preparing graduates to succeed in college and the workforce. He said it was a bitter disappointment. Disenchanted with higher education, Jerry went to work as, in his words, a shipping clerk for a silk company, standing eight hours a day, cutting and filling orders for clothing manufacturers.
Thankfully, Jerry had an entrepreneurial spirit that drove him to pursue a wide range of interests. He owned a crab meat processing plant in Beaufort, South Carolina; a cable television company in Carmel, California; a sailboat manufacturer in Nevada; a Swiss bank in Zurich; a 30,000-acre sheep and cattle station in New Zealand; and the corporate jet manufacturer, Gulfstream American Aviation.
In 1957 Jerry established the Alexander Dawson Foundation, naming it for his father and dedicating it to children’s education. His goal was to inspire children to not just learn, but to be responsible citizens who would lead purposeful lives, to counter the lack of inspiration he experienced through his own educational journey. Although Jerry was not an educator, as in so many other things, Jerry was ahead of his time. Concepts that have come into the mainstream today were central to the Alexander Dawson Foundation’s mission and philosophy since its inception. Educating the whole child was key to inspiring life-long learners who took personal responsibility for their future and the future of their community. Long before it was popular, Jerry understood that the best way to learn something is to engage in an activity that requires the skill or knowledge that one wants to learn. Today this idea goes by different names, active learning or experiential education.
His legacy could be measured in companies started and in dollars earned, but more importantly, it can be measured in the lives of those who knew him, the people he worked with, and most importantly the students that have been the beneficiaries of the Alexander Dawson Foundation.